When the order of the day for the presentation of the report of the Address in Reply Committee is read, either on the opening day or at a later sitting, the Speaker calls one of the two private Members of the committee to present the Address and it is then read by the Clerk. The most recent wording of the Address is:
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
The Member who presents the Address then moves that it be agreed to and at the conclusion of the mover’s speech the Speaker calls on the other private Member to second the motion. The debate on the motion may continue immediately or be adjourned to the next sitting. The Address has been agreed to on the day it was presented to the House, but debate usually extends over several sitting days.
Following the opening of the 1st Session of the 7th Parliament in 1917 and the report of the Governor-General’s speech, the standing orders in connection with the Address in Reply were suspended and no Address was presented.
In 1913, following a short speech by the Governor-General which dealt with the necessity to obtain supply and mentioned the fact that his present advisers had ‘not yet been able to mature the proposals placed by them before the Electors’, the House considered a statement of ministerial policy together with the proposed Address in Reply. In 1961, following the opening of the 3rd Session of the 23rd Parliament, a committee was appointed to prepare an Address in Reply to the speech by the Administrator.
Standing order 76 exempts debate on the Address from the rule of relevance. The scope of debate is unlimited in subject matter and usually ranges over a wide field of public affairs, including government policy and administration. Members may not discuss a specific motion of which notice has been given, and a specific allusion to any matter which is an order of the day should be avoided.
Each Member may speak for 20 minutes to the motion ‘That the Address be agreed to’. A Member who has already spoken to the main question may speak again, for 15 minutes only, to an amendment subsequently moved, but may not move or second such an amendment. The Address in Reply debate is traditionally an opportunity for newly elected Members to make their first speeches to the House. Debate on the Address has been closured. In recent Parliaments the order of the day for the resumption of debate on the Address has generally been referred to the Federation Chamber.
Amendments to the Address may be moved in the form of an addition of words to the Address. An amendment would usually be moved by an opposition Member. It is usually critical of the Government and, having regard to its wording, could be considered by the Government to be an amendment of censure for the purposes of standing order 48. In this case the amendment must be disposed of before any business, other than formal business, is proceeded with. After an amendment has been disposed of, a further amendment may be moved to add or insert words. There have been up to four amendments moved to a proposed Address.
In 1970 an amendment expressing a censure of the Government was not accepted as a censure amendment for the purposes of standing order 48 (then S.O. 110). The House then, on the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, agreed to the suspension of standing orders to enable debate on the proposed Address and the amendment to have precedence until disposed of. In 1905 an amendment to the Address, which added the words ‘but are of opinion that practical measures should be proceeded with’, was agreed to and the Address, as amended, presented to the Governor-General. Following the House’s agreement to the amendment the Government resigned and a new Ministry was formed.
The Address in Reply, as agreed to by the House, is presented to the Governor-General by the Speaker, accompanied by any Members who may think fit to attend. The Speaker ascertains when the Governor-General is able to receive the Address and announces the time of presentation to the House, either immediately the Address is agreed to or at a later time.
The sitting having been suspended (if necessary), the Speaker, the mover and seconder of the Address, the Clerk, the Deputy Clerk and the Serjeant-at-Arms, together with those Members wishing to attend, proceed to Government House for the presentation. There, after a short presentation statement, the Speaker reads the Address and presents it to the Governor-General, who replies. The Speaker then presents the mover and seconder, the other Members and the Clerk and other staff to the Governor-General.
The Speaker in reporting back to the House informs it of the Governor-General’s reply which has taken the following form:
Thank you for your Address in Reply.
It will be my pleasure and my duty to convey to Her Majesty The Queen the message of loyalty from the House of Representatives, to which the Address gives expression.
Her Majesty the Queen’s reply may be announced at a later date.
An Address has been presented to a Governor-General not being the one who made the opening speech. The presentation has been delayed by over three months and deferred due to the absence of the Governor-General.
In July 1907 the Governor-General, through a senior Minister, inquired from Sydney whether it was necessary for him to go to Melbourne (where the Parliament was then situated) to receive the Address in Reply. Speaker Holder replied that the Address must be presented to the Governor-General personally by the Speaker with Members, which practically required it to take place in Melbourne. The Address was presented in Melbourne. However in 1909 the Address was forwarded to the Governor-General who was absent in Queensland.
The Address in Reply to the Governor-General’s speech on the opening of the 1st Session of the 3rd Parliament was agreed to on 21 February 1907 and the Parliament was prorogued on 22 February 1907. There is no record of the Address having been presented.
The order of the day relating to the Address in Reply to the speech of Her Majesty the Queen on the commencement of the 2nd Session of the 28th Parliament lapsed upon the simultaneous dissolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives on 11 April 1974. Similarly, the order of the day relating to the Address in Reply of the 2nd Session of the 44th Parliament lapsed at the simultaneous dissolution of 9 May 2016.
In 1950 Speaker Cameron was questioned on his conduct at the presentation of the Address. It was alleged that the Governor-General having invited those present to accept some minor form of hospitality, ‘Mr Speaker then abruptly left Government House in his robes of office, accompanied by officers of the House, but left behind the other members of the House’.